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Friday, April 28, 2006
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ATHENS, Ohio (April 28, 2006) -- The second of three panel discussions of Ohio University's colloquia "Race and the Spectrum of Critical Consciousness" addressed "Institutional Discrimination and Language" on April 21.

In opening, Professor Amanda Nolacea Harris quoted Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 Letters from the Birmingham Jail. Criticism she received after the first colloquium, both positive and negative, was evidence to her that the need for the colloquia exists.

"These kinds of reactions have been historically related to anti-racist, anti-hegemonic activism, discourse and discussion," she said.

"No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed," a presentation by McNair Scholars Chair Valerie Mendoza emphasized the importance of history in racism and how Mexican immigration to early 20th century Kansas City illustrates the complexity of Mexican migration outside the border.

"Institutional racism occurs every day and goes unnoticed. Immigrants are especially vulnerable," she said. The distinct relationship between culture and community was her focal point. She views Mexican immigrant neighborhoods from past and present as a way for them "to assert their cultural traditions in a new land and also to maintain a lifeline to their homeland."

Panelist Fred Toner, Modern Languages chair, discussed the parallel between the French and American "melting pots" of culture. In France "refusing to label by race has led to defining sons and daughters as 2nd generation immigrants and 3rd generation immigrants. When does one become French?" he said.

Toner's presentation "Positive Discrimination" used the November riots in France as an example of the conflict that exists between ethnic groups despite the country's long history and reputation as a so-called "haven" for diversity.

"Language rights in the United States" and laws concerning education and the workplace continue to escalate in controversy. Modern Languages Professor Manuel Triano-López presented on the topic, emphasizing the need for bilingual capabilities and conflicts that arise where they don't exist.

"Language is the umbilical cord of culture," said Najee Muhammad, Cultural Studies in Education professor and panelist at the first colloquium.

In the discussion following the panel, the importance of language dominated the discussion. "We think in language. If we distort that in any way, we cut that. Language is essential to self-identity and self-determination," Muhammad said.

"Things are often put into terms of what's best and what's better when it actually has very little to do with what's best and what's better," Harris said, speaking about language, race, and class. "In the absence of race, race is created to make the structure function," she said.

The series was created in lieu of a traditional interdepartmental colloquia in the Modern Languages department. Now in her first year at the university, Harris recognized a need for the colloquia to expand through her experiences with colleagues and conversations with students.

"Given that issues of race and discrimination are so embedded within the structures and the disciplines, I decided that I couldn't do it as an internal colloquia, that I had to do it as an interdisciplinary colloquia," she said.

The African Studies, Latin American Studies, Cultural Studies in Education, and English departments, University College, College of Arts and Sciences, the Latino Student Union, and the Muslim Student Organization all contributed to the colloquia.

"We're looking towards the work that we still have to do," Harris said.

The final colloquium, "Diversity, Ethics, Appropriations and Opportunities," takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Elizabeth Baker Room, Baker Center, Friday, April 28. Scheduled presentations include the "Contextualization of Local Diversity Issues" by University College Dean David Descutner as a discussion of past diversity initiatives and missed opportunities on campus as well as positive outcomes. "The Cooptation of Diversity" by English Professor George Hartley will focus on anti-essentialism as racism in the institution in how it's been used to perpetuate the status quo. The final presentation, "Racist Essentialism, Class Markers, and Ethnic Choices," by Modern Languages Professor Amado Lascar will address the relationship between the three and the position of a non-white intellectual within that.

The goal of the colloquia "was a teaching kind of goal, and opening goal, a goal of letting in or making people privy to discourses and discussions that they normally wouldn't have access to, or be interested in, or even know about," Harris said.

"My goal was to make sure people knew about things so they would have to take a position and not just float around in passivity. Passivity is a way of supporting the status quo. And if the status quo is hurtful, and if you say you're going to remain neutral, you're not really neutral. Your neutrality itself is a way of supporting the status quo," she said.

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Media Contact: Media Specialist George Mauzy, (740) 597-1794 or mauzy@ohio.edu

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